Kid-Friendly Thanksgiving Sides: A Fresh Look at Old Childhood Faves

thanksgiving family dinnerI want to share this blog post with your today: Read how a recent stroll down the chips aisle with her son at the grocery store turned into a walk down memory lane for ZisBoomBah's food writer, Becky Milanski. Reminiscing about classic Thanksgiving side dishes she devoured as a child, this Colorado mom decided it was time she created childhood memories for her son now. She revamps an old favorite, green bean casserole, with homemade fried onions and ditches the traditional marshmallows on her sweet potato casserole for an updated nutty topping.

Recipes your kids will remember for many Thanksgivings to come... Enjoy!

My son and I were walking down the chips aisle at Target, honing in on my current favorite snack, whole-wheat honey grain twist pretzels (don’t even try one—you’ll be hooked), when he stopped in front of a display of shiny yellow bags full of giant O-shaped rings. “I love Funyuns, Mom! Can we get some?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “But you hateonions. You always pick them out of everything. You beg me not to cook with them.”

“But, Mom, I love them! They aren’t the same as onions!”

That much is true. Made mostly of cornmeal, soybean oil, salt, and a bit of onion powder, Funyuns have about as much in common with onion rings than Pringles have to potato chips.

“How about we get real fried onion rings—we used to have them all the time on green bean casserole at Thanksgiving.”

Surprisingly, he didn’t put up a fuss about his missed junk food opportunity and went all in. “OK, let’s get them!”

And that got me thinking about how much I loved that classic green bean casserole as a child even though I hated fresh green beans. How could I make that casserole—and skip the canned cream of mushroom soup? Are those canned fried onions really OK to use?

Memories of Thanksgiving vegetables past

Soon I started to think about other loved Thanksgiving sides from my childhood. What about those wonderful marshmallow-topped sweet potato casseroles? Could I do that with a little less sugar but still maintain that sigh-inducing, light-as-air taste thrill?

And what about those sides the kids would studiously avoid, year after year: the over-steamed, limp broccoli, the smelly cauliflower, the gray, overdone Brussels sprouts—could I do better by the next generation?

These questions brought on a frenzy of online searching and recipe research, starting first with those canned fried onion rings. According to French’s Fried Onions website, the ingredients listed are Palm Oil, Wheat Flour, Onions, Soy Flour, Salt and Dextrose, containing 3.5 grams of fat (45 calories per 2 tablespoon serving). Aside from the dextrose, these ingredients mimic homemade onion rings, dredged in seasoned flour and fried. Maybe in a pinch, but I knew I could do better.

Making it better, by hand

I remembered my culinary school internship, working the cold food line in an Arizona dessert resort’s main restaurant kitchen. One of the fresh salad garnishes was fresh, fried onions, created by slivering onions über-thin on a deli slicer, dredging them in flour almost pink with seasoned salt, and dropping them little by little into a deep fryer. The results were so savory and tender—and incredibly difficult to keep away from the line cooks’ greedy hands (and my own). So simple, so much better than canned.

By using a simple veloute sauce made with fresh mushrooms and chicken stock, you avoid the heaviness of the cream of mushroom canned soup, resulting in fewer fried onion rings needed on top. It’s all about balance, a little yin of fried onions balanced with a lot of yang of fresh green beans and mushrooms. And the result is sure to be a hit with the next gen. What kid can resistFunuyns fresh fried onion rings?


Green bean casserole with homemade fried onion rings

Green Bean Casserole

Note: Though the recipe has been revamped with homemade ingredients, the fried onion ring topping does push the fat content for a veggie side higher. I believe in balance—all foods can be part of a healthy diet if eaten in moderation. For a lower-fat version, toss the sliced onions with a mix of flour, Japanese bread crumbs (panko), and seasoned salt, spray with nonstick canola cooking spray, and bake on a cookie sheet at 450oF for 30 minutes, stirring twice, until crisp.


  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • Canola or peanut oil for frying

Green Bean Filling

  • 12 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 pound fresh green beans, washed, trimmed, and blanched (or use bagged, frozen green beans, defrosted)
  1. Prepare Topping. In a medium bowl, mix together flour and seasoned salt. Toss sliced onions in flour mixture until evenly coated.  In large frying pan, heat canola oil until shimmery. Shaking off any excess flour mixture, fry coated onions in batches until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Drain batches on paper towels.
  1. Prepare Green Bean Filling. Preheat oven to 400 oF. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook until they begin to release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg; cook another 2 minutes. Sprinkle flour over mushroom mixture and mix well until incorporated. Cook 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, mixing until blended. Simmer 2 minutes. Lower heat to low and mix in whole milk. Cook until thickened, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in prepared green beans.
  1. Pour green bean mixture into 1½-quart casserole dish; spread evenly. Sprinkle fried onion topping over top. Bake for 15 minutes until bubbly. Serve hot.


Sweet potato casserole sans the traditional marshmallows. Your kids will love the crumbly, nutty topping!

Sweet Potato Casserole

Based on a recipe from

This recipe substitutes a healthier streusel-style topping for the traditional marshmallows—your kids will love the crumbly, nutty topping!

Sweet Potato Filling

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh grated orange zest
  • Salt


  • ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 350 oF. Spray a 1½-quart casserole dish with nonstick canola cooking spray; set aside.
  1. Prepare Sweet Potato Filling: place sweet potatoes in a large saucepot and cover with cold water and dash of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain; return to the saucepot and mash with a potato masher.
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs, melted butter and honey; add prepared sweet potatoes and mix well. Stir in milk, orange zest and ½ teaspoon salt. Spread in prepared casserole dish.
  1. Prepare Topping: in small mixing bowl, combine whole-wheat flour, brown sugar, orange juice concentrate and melted butter; mix with fork until crumbly. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle topping over prepared sweet potato mixture.
  1. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until lightly browned. Serve hot or warm.

Sandra Henderson

Content Editor / Writer - Where it's OK to play with your Food

Blog: http://blog.zis


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